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Spotlight on Heroes

Meet Rick Papke: A Lifetime Protecting and Serving

By Glenda Worrell
-Reprinted from Neighbors of Tellico Village - March 2023


Rick Papke's neighbors consider him a hero, not because he's a retired vet or an exemplary member of the Tellico Village Volunteer Fire Department (both of which are true), but because he's a person whose daily concern for others is heroic. ln short, he's the sort of Tellico Village neighbor that everyone wishes they had.




















Rick calls himself a "naturalized Californian" because he was moved by his parents from Philadelphia to the Los Angeles area in his first year of life. At the age of 17, he joined the United States Naval Reserve submarine service and signed on for a six-year enlistment. "One weekend per month, I reported for duty at the Long Beach Naval Station," said Rick. "I attended basic submarine training and my weekend duty consisted of sailing on World War ll, Bacuna Class submarines. My bunk was between two torpedoes, one above and one underneath."


Rick reports an early interest in the medical field and attended an intense, 40-hour/week, five-month Hospital Corpsman school shortly after high school graduation. "Hospital Corpsmen are the medics for the Navy and Marines," explains Rick. "l attended with a status of active duty for training. After graduation, I went back to civilian life. Half of my class who were on active duty were assigned to the Fleet Marines and went to Vietnam. Unfortunately, many did not return."


Rick attended college at UCLA briefly until 1965 when he was ordered to active duty for two years and was assigned as a Corpsman to the USS King DLG 10, a guided missile frigate. "l flew from San Francisco to the Philippines in June 1965. When I arrived in my wool dress blues, it was as if I walked into a wet, hot oven! I was transported to the Subic Bay Naval Station infirmary for temporary duty until my ship returned from Vietnam." Rick assisted at sick call and was assigned to vaccinate the first Coast Guard detachment heading to Vietnam. "The hepatitis vaccine had the consistency of maple syrup and I had to inject 5 cc's into 400 butt cheeks that day. My thumb muscles went into spasm several times as I pushed the plunger on the syringe!"


When Rick's ship arrived, he met his boss who, as it turned out, enjoyed imbibing medicinal brandy from the medical locker. "When that ran low, he taught me how to strain 190 proof sterilizing alcohol through bread into a Styrofoam cup. You had to drink it fast before it ate a hole in the bottom of the cup. Needless to say, I handled most of the corpsman duties on the ship while the Chief was indisposed."


Rick sailed on his first western Pacific cruise in late 1965. "My duties on the ship were to hold sick call each morning, dispense huge quantities of APCs (aspirin, phenacetin, and caffeine) tablets, suture lacerations, and assess and treat a myriad of illnesses. Once we left a liberty port, I saw just about every STD known to mankind. I spent hours hovering over a microscope determining the variety, so we knew how it treat it, but it was medical paradise for 19-year-old me."


"The only war action I saw was when a squadron of North Vietnamese PT boats attacked our ship," says Rick. "We blew
them out of the water, and I was assigned to the motor whale boat sent out to recover survivors/prisoners. We recovered an NVA sailor who was shot up badly. I was able to patch him up and administer morphine for his pain. When I compare my experience in the war with those who fought in-country on land, in the rivers and in the air, I can't tell you how proud of and in awe I am of their service and sacrifice."


After his two-year active duty was over, Rick returned to the Reserves, receiving an honorable discharge in 1969. Because a paramedic program had not yet been established, Rick turned to law enforcement. "l joined the Los Angeles Police Department in 1970, working as a patrol officer, detective, patrol watch commander and ended my career as a detective division commanding officer. I taught constitutional law, interrogation and interviewing techniques for 20 years in our detective schools." While a member of LAPD, Rick obtained an AA and BA in Administration of Justice. He also joined the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve and served on a 41-foot search and rescue boat for 5 years.







Rick retired in 2006 and he and his wife Elyse moved to Tellico Village in 2007. "Virtually every day we say it was the best move we ever made. I joined the Volunteer Fire Department in November of 2007 and returned to my medical roots. I went to school and became a licensed EMT and then an Advanced EMT. I am currently the Deputy Chief and training officer for Emergency Medical Services. I participated in fire suppression duties for many years and am now exclusively in the EMS division."

Rick teaches a 4-hour CPR/AED class, an 8-week Emergency Medical Responder (EMR) School, a 16-hour EMR refresher, and has been leading medical training at monthly department medical meetings for 14 years. "l am very proud of the graduates I have taught and of our department. We have 32 members who uphold a sense of community and empathy on every call we receive (1,167 calls for service last year). We go the extra mile. We have walked patients' dogs when they were transported to the hospital. We have transported and picked up loved ones to and from the hospital. Our mantra is 'We save lives and property and relieve pain and suffering.’ "

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